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Genetically Engineered Virus-Resistant Squash Approved For Sale

"NBIAP News Report." U.S. Department of Agriculture (January 1995)

On December 13, 1994, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the USDA finally deregulated the genetically engineered virus-resistant yellow crookneck squash line designated ZW-20 (Federal Register, pages 64187-64189). The controversial virus-resistant squash, developed by the Asgrow Seed Co., had been regulated under the Plant Pest Act in part because it contains DNA sequences derived from plant pathogens. ZW-20 squash resists infection by zucchini yellow mosaic and watermelon mosaic viruses because the coat proteins of those viruses were inserted into the line. It was field tested under 14 APHIS permits at 46 sites in 10 states.

Following submission of a petition for deregulation by Upjohn, Asgrow's parent company, APHIS sought public comment on the ZW-20 squash petition and the agency's preliminary finding of no significant environmental impact on three different occasions. Opponents of deregulation argued that the use of two viral coat proteins could lead to the creation of new plant viruses and perhaps cause the squash to become a weed, and that the virus resistance genes could move to wild squash relatives with detrimental impact on these wild plants.

Based upon an analysis of the data submitted by Upjohn, a review of scientific literature and comments received from the public, APHIS concluded that the ZW-20 squash is as safe to grow as traditionally bred virus-resistant squash and therefore no longer needs to be regulated. Opponent organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists have expressed disappointment over APHIS' determination.

In November 1994, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Public Advisory Committee, after reviewing data provided by Upjohn, found that as food, ZW-20 squash appeared to be as safe as its non-engineered counterpart. This spring, Asgrow Seed will begin marketing the genetically engineered squash seeds under the name "Freedom II." The seeds will bear a label stating that they are the product of genetic engineering.

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